Diversity, Culture and the Importance of Perspective: Takeaways from the 2017 New York Times DealBook Conference


By Ryan Cooney, Product Manager, Secondary Funds

At Hamilton Lane, we spend a lot of time thinking. We think about how to make our business better and more efficient, how to help our clients in more meaningful ways, how to use technology to advance our position in the private markets, how to make a bigger impact in our communities – just to name a few.

Such deep thinking has helped us to evolve as a company and has led us to pursue a number of innovative and important initiatives. Yet, as an organization, and as the individuals contributing to its success, we must be cognizant not to focus so singularly on our own, private markets-oriented world lest we forget the value of outside perspective. That notion has never been clearer to me than during a recent opportunity I had to listen to some of the most experienced, interesting and impressive business leaders of today.

Held in November 2017, the New York Times DealBook Conference is an annual event hosted and moderated by Andrew Ross Sorkin. While many topics were woven throughout the day-long event, the primary aim was to explore a variety of newsworthy topics through the lens of long-term leadership. The conference featured an impressive and diverse lineup of guest speakers, including: Howard Schultz (Chairman & CEO, Starbucks); Mellody Hobson (President, Ariel Investments); Dara Khosrowshahi (CEO, Uber); Kenneth Chenault (Chairman and CEO, American Express); Larry Fink (Chairman and CEO, BlackRock); Mark Cuban (Owner, Dallas Mavericks); Randall Stephenson (Chairman and CEO of AT&T); Laurene Powell Jobs (Founder and President Emerson Collective) and more.

As you can imagine with a roster like this, a lot of thought provoking themes and insights were shared.

Newsworthy Topics
Somehow (I presume by the grace of the media gods) the DealBook Conference manages to occur at the perfect, seemingly most newsworthy time every year: last year it was held two days after the U.S. election; this year it was a day after news broke that the Justice Department demanded that either Turner Broadcasting or DirecTV be sold off as a condition to approve AT&T’s acquisition of Time Warner (and of course, featured AT&T CEO Randall Stephenson). It was also Dara Khosrowshahi’s first public appearance since taking over as CEO at Uber, and closely followed news that President Trump’s Twitter account was deactivated, which Co-Founder Jack Dorsey addressed.

Diversity and Inclusion
One prevalent theme, which is increasingly becoming a top initiative for many companies, centered around how to create a more diverse and inclusive culture. It was addressed many times throughout the day, and one point was clear: America has a major diversity issue. Corporations are saying they are doing a lot, but where are the results? Are businesses tracking their progress? If so, what benchmarks are they holding themselves to? For the firms that are seeing a difference, what are they doing that is making an impact?

The companies that are seeing change are those that are taking aggressive action to identify, recruit, develop and push diverse candidates and employees forward. They have been successful because they are forcing change and forcing behaviors. It’s a ‘radical’ approach that the companies who are attacking the issue are implementing and sometimes that ‘radical’ approach can mean compensation changes.

If you’re familiar with Hamilton Lane, you hopefully know that we believe our culture is what sets us apart. As someone who takes great pride in his firm’s culture, I was quite interested to hear what Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi had to say about culture. The message we at Hamilton Lane hear from leadership is that successful companies are comprised of people who take pride in what they do, enjoy what they do, and both like and trust the people around them, whether they are co-workers or clients. In addressing Uber’s culture, Dara argued that everyone wants to play on a winning team. If you have a great culture, but are constantly losing, you’re not going to love it. On the flip side, he said, sometimes winning can disguise rot that is happening in an organization – Uber was scaling and winning, but the culture wasn’t scaling. Winning gave some excuses for bad behavior. The magic is when you are playing on a winning team and have a great culture.

Playing for the Long Term
Having worked in the private markets industry for 10 years, I am all too familiar with this theme. The private markets are synonymous with long-term thinking. As the main theme of the conference, it was clear this theme resonated not just with me, but with many of the speakers who discussed the role of long-term thinking in their organizations. 

What I found interesting was the notion of ‘short-termism’ that appears to be taking over the way some of us think. Chairman and CEO of American Express, Ken Chenault, maintained that there is a lack of focus and too much short-termism. For instance, it was argued that ‘long term’ today means two years. If you have a strategic five- to 10-year plan, make sure you have side goals, because people are impatient these days. The key is to have mid- to long-term views, but also important to deliver in the short-term. Our minds are being conditioned to think, do and live in smaller components of time.

Having the chance to hear these views from the perspective of top business leaders, influencers and thinkers was a valuable experience. Personally, it provided me the opportunity to pick my head up and absorb some important outside perspective. However, it was also a chance to bring these themes and best practices back to Hamilton Lane to reflect on (or think about) what we’re doing and what we might want to start doing. Regardless, having a broad perspective and a long-term view will help us all be more successful. 

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